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For over a decade, David Tien, Ph.D., has helped hundreds of thousands of people from over 87 countries find happiness, success, and fulfillment in their social, professional, and love lives. His presentations – whether keynotes, seminars, or workshops – leave clients with insights into their behavior, psychology, and keys to their empowerment. His training methodologies are the result of over a decade of coaching and education of thousands of students around the world. Join him on the “DTPHD Podcast” as he explores deep questions of meaning, success, truth, love, and the good life. Subscribe now.
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HENRY CHONG is our special guest speaker on this episode. Henry is Director of Fusang Capital, a fund management company that manages the assets of multi-family offices. He is also a Director at the Portcullis Group, Asia’s biggest independent group of trust companies, providing comprehensive wealth administration to high-net-worth individuals, providing a one-stop shop for corporate, trustee, and fund administration services to individuals, family offices, philanthropies, private banks, and investment managers. Henry is a graduate of Oxford University with a B.A. (Hons) in Philosophy Politics & Economics and is a founder of the Oxford Economics Society. He also holds a M.Sc. in Behavioral Science from the London School of Economics and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSC). He will be sharing with us from his deep insights in behavioral economics, finance, health, and psychology.
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This is the meditation track David referred to:
Episode 16 Show Notes
1:40 What is the vantage point of trust?
5:08 How is failure the way through success?
9:22 What is a positive delusion and why does it matter?
14:30 This surprising thing happens when you are focused on failing
17:15 What makes our beliefs strong?
19:18 When a delusion helps you achieve your goal
25:22 David Tien shares personal events in his life involving the vantage point of trust
30:31 What is real belief as opposed to mere opinion?
35:30 Can challenges be motivation for action?
39:13 When imperfections become an advantage
44:16 What charismatic people have in common
49:27 Do our past mistakes have a purpose in our life?
Dr. David Tien: Welcome. I’m David Tien, Ph.D. and this is the DTPHD Podcast. I’m joined by my guest, Henry Chong.
Henry Chong: Hello.
Dr. David Tien: And we are here in Singapore, back in the Fusang offices.
Henry Chong: Yes.
Dr. David Tien: And if you’re watching this on video, you recognize this backdrop. It’s good to be finally in the same city after so many months corresponding over the oceans.
Henry Chong: It makes life a lot easier, just one mic.
Dr. David Tien: Yes, that one mic really helps, and one mic in one video. My spiel, in case this is the first you’re listening or watching. For over the past 10 years, I’ve been helping hundreds of thousands of people in over 87 countries attain success, happiness and fulfillment in life and love. Why don’t you do a quick intro, Henry?
Henry Chong: My name is Henry Chong. I am the CEO of the Fusang Group. Fusang’s an investment management group. We help families and institutions look after their assets and their affairs. And our latest thing is, we’re spending a lot of time looking at investing in technology, including things like the blockchain. But I don’t think that’s what we’re here to talk about today.
Dr. David Tien: Well, we could, but yeah. So, the topic we’ve chosen for today is something I call the vantage point of trust or the vantage of trust. And this is the perspective or the approach of trusting that everything will end up working out better even if you fail. And that’s a pretty aggressive assumption to make because if you take that at face value, then you may wonder, “Why bother trying at all?” So, let’s unpack this. So, I’ll put out my theory and then we’ll see what Henry thinks. So I first came across this idea in its explicit form in a meditation. I’ve been doing guided meditations lately on Insight Timer. It’s part of a new thing I want to run by you on meditation. The meditator teacher was named Sarah Blondin. She’s excellent. I’ve recommended her to other clients.
And some of them liked her track, some of them didn’t, so I don’t know. Your mileage may vary, your taste may very, but I like them. And she has one on trust, and Remembering Trust I think is the title of that track. She pointed out, she had this phrase, and I’m not able to quote it exactly because I didn’t write it down. It’s something like, “On the tapestry of your life, there is no stain.” And it began with, thinking about, or having you look back on your life, and seeing that, the things that you thought were going to end your life and when you’re a child, or a teenager, it could be very minor things in the long run that you think are life-destroying events.
Like, no one invited you to so and so’s birthday party or something like that, or the prom and your hair is messed up. And you look back at those things and you realize that they actually worked out for the better. This is a leap of fate, I don’t know for how many people. But when I did it for myself, I realized that almost everything in my life, that worked out really, really well were a result of some big setback, or perceived setback, or perceived failure.
And when you approach your life like that, there’s a lot of things that probably if you’re an achiever, you’re striving for. And you probably thrive under pressure, and one way to get yourself moving and get through procrastination is to think big, and to lay down deadlines, and to add pressure. Because if you’re an achiever and you’re older, you’re probably in a pretty comfortable position versus where you were 10 years ago. So, you could roll back your life 10 years ago, and you could live, you survive. Achievers are constantly, tricking themselves, many of them do this unconsciously, to achieve more by adding more pressure. Like, “I have to make the next promotion, or I have to get this status or this next thing.” And they’re artificially heaping on themselves these big audacious goals to, in a way, motivate themselves because that’s what makes them feel alive.
If you do that for too long, if you’re running on a treadmill too long, you don’t take a break, you’ll not just burn out but you might fail. That failure might be causing you a lot of stress that’s not just affecting your health, but also affecting your relationships, and your parenting relationship, you relationship with the kids. And it’s going to affect your work, because you can’t get into flow if you’re too stressed out, or if there’s too much pressure, you’re bottled up. That’s not going to help you achieve the best. So, this is an insight that I wanted to lay out for Henry. I have lots of stories and anecdotes I can share. During that first meditation I look back and I was like, “Yeah, man, that was true.” But I want to throw it out to you.
Henry Chong: I mean, I think the first thing I’d say is that, when you say for example, fear is the way, or you know, the stories you said this concept, like the obstacle is the way. And I guess the point is that, the way is the way. That’s the way you got. Confucius used to say, the way is the way. And you can imagine alternate futures in which something happened a different way. But the point is that, in this future, in this moment, right here, it only happened that one way. So, whether that thing turned out good, or bad, subjectively, when we place a judgment upon it, that is the timeline you live in, so to speak.
And whether or not things turn out well, again, it’s just purely up to our perception. But in a sense, they couldn’t have turned out any other way. So, you got what you got, and that’s it. It’s up to you to decide whether that was a failure that became the way, or whether it was an obstacle you overcame, or whether it was luck, or whatever. In a sense, the only thing that we can decide looking back is our perception. You don’t really get to go back and rewrite history. You talk about trust, and that just reminded me of this quote by Alan Watts, and he says, “The thing is to trust the water, if you struggle, you will drown. If you just let go and float, you’ll be okay.” Which is true. That’s exactly what you need to do, and it’s only by panicking and struggling that you burn so much energy.
It just made me think of that quote but it also made me think of… I sent you an e-mail a while ago. Ryan Holiday, when he writes about how… There’s this author Aaron Thier. There’s a book called The World is a Narrow Bridge, and he has a line in there where he says that, basically, the most important thing is not to be afraid of the narrow bridge. Walking along a narrow bridge that’s one-foot wide is no different than walking across a narrow bridge that’s a mile wide. It’s no different than walking across the ground. It’s the same act of walking. It’s only different because it’s a narrow bridge, or it’s far above ground, and we seize up, and we panic, and we get scared.
And I think his point was that life is like a narrow bridge. If you look down, you’ll panic. But actually, you can just sort of keep going the horizon and keep walking. It’s fine. There are so many things in life that cause, if you think about them, pain, stress, and suffering. Just like when you’re about to undertake a new project, if you seriously think about all the things the project will take, you’ll never get started. But if you just focus on the end goal, you just kind of start walking, step by step, you’ll be fine.
I think that ties in to what you were saying where, objectively, there is a lot of pain and suffering in life. But so what? You keep your eye on the horizon, you keep walking, and actually life in many cases turns out okay or better than ever, especially if you choose that perception. If you believe, for example, Tony Robbins’ quote where he says, “What if you believe that life doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you?” And I believe that beliefs are subjective.
Like it’s up to you to pick. There’s isn’t one belief that’s true or not. It’s up to you to decide what’s true for you and which of those beliefs you pick, “Is everything happening for me? Are all these failures just me getting lucky?” For example, if something bad happened to you, what if something worse could have happened, that the universe was being kind to you?” So that happens then. It’s all completely subjective beliefs. And the truth is that looking back, there is just one timeline, that’s all you’ve got. The meaning and the perspective that you can ascribe to that history I think is up to you to decide.
Dr. David Tien: Right, well yeah. It’s up to us to decide because so I worked out this logic on this. Positive delusions are positive. There’s something in psychology called positive delusions. This is when the patient, the subject, is deluded. A grandiose delusion is one that where they’re hallucinating in a way. So, they think maybe they’re a secret agent. But because they think they’re a secret agent, they think they’re super smart, they’re very powerful and they maximize their gifts, or their intellectual abilities, and they go for it. And when you think, when you feel like you’re confident, you might feel like you could be a secret agent and you could pull off all kinds of things where in your more sober mind, you would’ve been scared. So, there are such things as positive delusions.
And in attraction, I studied how to attract women and taught it for many years. And one of the most advantageous mindsets was, if you believed that you were attractive or at least had as much social value as the person you’re talking to… And in fact, it’s best to not even think about that, but that you just think that you are of value and the other person is of value, just something simple like that. But if you were to look at it more objectively, and were to pull people, you might get a score that is low for you, that’s lower than the person you’re talking to.
But in the moment, if you don’t think about that, or where you’re even going to be more attractive, if you’re positively deluded that you’re attractive, she’s going to suddenly think, “Why is he so confident? There must be something else about him that I haven’t quite got yet.” And because you’re so confident because you’re positively deluded, you probably are charming. Because you’re going to say funny things, you’ll tease her, and all of this other stuff. So, positive delusions to a certain extent help. And to what extent? Because then there’s the reality principle.
Ray Dalio and principles, that’s one of the most powerful ones that you must always pay attention to the reality. Especially when you’re dealing with money. There’s only so much that you can delude the market. Or you delude other people, but it’s harder to delude numbers. So, you need to take into account the reality. Now, here’s how it all works. So, going back to your example of… Well, the example that you gave of the daily stoic where you’re on a narrow bridge, but it could be one feet high, or it could be a hundred feet high.
And when it’s a hundred feet high, you freak out. And that’s because you think that if you fall, you might die. Whereas if you’re one foot high, you can fall and just get back on. And there are real consequences. I remember when you were saying that, I remember on a nine hour bike ride in the mountains of Vietnam, when I did not know how to ride a motorcycle out in the middle of nowhere literally, all we were guided by… Because I was separated from the rest of the riders.
And the guide’s bike was broken down and he said, “You can’t wait. You’ve got to just keep going, go ahead, we’ll meet you at the next town.” And I end up coming off the mountain which is already pretty scary and I just see a very narrow path. And the moonlight was so low, that I couldn’t make out the boundaries of this path. But I could hear running water on both sides. And I knew I’d pass many bridges on the way here, so I was like, “Holy shit. This is a really long bridge. And I can’t see where the damn path ends.”
And then I looked a little closer and I saw a red dot moving further away from me. I’m like, “Okay, somebody else made it!” So, I looked at the red dot and I just followed the red dot. And remember in driver’s ed school, learning how to drive a car, the teacher said, “Don’t look at what you want to avoid because then you’ll hit it.” So, always look where you want to go. It’s hard for a beginner drivers because you’re always going to be looking at the thing that you’re scared off.
Henry Chong: And don’t look near, look far.
Dr. David Tien: Right. Look ahead, look far ahead. So many great things you can learn from driving, life lessons. So anyway, it looked pretty far, this red dot was already pretty far along, and I just followed the path and I could hear the water. So, if I attended to that, I probably would’ve freaked out and maybe just squirreled around a little bit and fallen over. I found out the next day they were rice paddies, that were being irrigated, but they were quite high up, still would’ve been quite uncomfortable.
Anyway, so I went across and I made it but a part of me was just, “I’m homing in one little red light and blocking out all other stimuli. And I got across pretty easily. Just like as if it were just a flat ground. And it’s your brain that freaks you out, it’s your perception. Here’s the logic behind navigating the reality principle versus positive delusions. You have to accept, you’ll have to see, it’s easy to accept it once you see, that your vantage point is limited and your knowledge is limited.
If you had infinite knowledge, if you were God, then you should always use the reality principle. If you could look forward in time… but you don’t. You have a very limited vantage point of reality. Because of that, you can’t actually ever know all of reality, or even all of reality that pertains to your issue. Because of that, actually, you get as much reality as you can. But then there are some parts of reality that don’t help you. And if you hold them in your mind, they will hinder you. So many people think about what if I fail. “If I fail, then this horrible thing will happen.”
And they focus on the horrible thing that will happen and it paralyzes them from taking action. So, guys looking at a girl that they want to meet, they focus on, “What if she rejects me? What if people laugh at me?” And they focus on the things like on the side of the road, or the sound of the water when you’re trying to cross the bridge, instead of focusing on the little red light that’s moving further away from you and you should just focus on that.
And when it comes down to it, you should focus on the thing that will help you get across to the other side and have a very narrow focus on that. And sometimes that light isn’t there, so you have to positively delude yourself that that’s there to get you across. And if you’re smart, you know if you have to stop and think about it, that this is a delusion, that the chances of you actually succeeding are much lower than you’re tricking yourself into believing. But if you’re going to get this done, you have to have that confidence to pull it off, so you have to think it’s higher than it is.
It’s sort of like that little red dot. And so, of course the little red dot ahead of me in that bridge thing was another rider. So, you’re thinking there’s somebody else who’s done this before, even if you don’t know anyone who has, or you could think about it fictionally. So, I used to have fictional role models because I just couldn’t find anyone in real life that was like that. Or there might have been some approximations but no one like that. So why not just take the fictional role model and trick yourself into believing there really was somebody like this? And strive towards that as a role model.
So, the logic actually works. Because of our limited knowledge, we have the intellectual humility or epistemic humility which would cause the reality principle to be more limited than it would, than some people might think it would be, and that allows room then for positive delusions.
Henry Chong: Yeah. That’s a great story. The thing about fear is that it’s not just uncomfortable. Behavioral psychology and performance science tell us that, in certain situations, being afraid or overthinking the activity… If you genuinely are not that good a bike rider, thinking about how you’re not a good bike rider isn’t going to help you at all. Not just not help you, it will dramatically impact your performance. Again, to your example, if you’re focused how bad a rider you are, you’re not focused about where you’re going and that could be disastrous, especially in situations where you don’t have a choice.
It’s like, “Okay, I’m on a bridge, I got to get across” is not particularly helpful to me to think about in reality. I just got to focus in on the outcome and achieve it or else, and I think that, that’s a very powerful point. Yeah, I think that beliefs are like tables, you need legs to support them. And you can have a belief for a while if no one comes and tries to push it over. Let’s say you have a belief, a table that only has two legs. If faced suddenly with a strong oppositional force, they’ll just fall over. And I think beliefs are the same way. We can believe something about ourselves until faced with some unavoidable reality and then that belief might collapse. The only way to make sure that the belief doesn’t collapse, the belief is firm, is for it to have legs.
And for beliefs, I think those are things like experiences. If you have experiences you can point to, that forms like a foundational leg for your belief. So for example, if your belief is, “I can ride a motorcycle across a rice paddy bridge.” One really strong leg is, “And I’ve done it before. I can probably do it again.” And the more legs you have like that, the stronger your beliefs become. So I think that reality is important. And you do at some point need these legs to support your beliefs, otherwise they won’t last. But then the problem is, “Okay, well, how do I get going? How do I get that first experience of having ridden a bike if I don’t even believe that I can?”
And I think that’s where it comes in where you’d sometimes need a bit of that positive delusion to say, “You know what? I’m just going to try. I’ve never done it before. I think I can.” And once you do it the first time, you’ve got one leg, and then you could do it again and again. That belief gets stronger and stronger, but at some point you just need to get over that initial threshold and take a leap of fate. I think it’s like that in a lot of things in life. Again, we don’t understand our reality. You will never have all the information to make a decision. So, at some point you say, “You know what? You either go or you don’t and that’s it.”
Dr. David Tien: Yeah. So, there should be another term besides positive delusion for positive delusions that are informed by reality.
Henry Chong: Yeah.
Dr. David Tien: The state that I’m aiming for is where you realize that the delusion is a delusion. But you’re adopting it consciously because it will help you towards your goal. So, knowing that you’re a hundred feet off the ground is something that’s in the back of your mind because you need to be really more focused on the thing you’re going to focus on and ignore the things you need to ignore that if you had a bigger margin of error, like you’re one foot of the ground. So, you should never ignore reality. That’s really important.
In fact, one thing to point out, we had some audio difficulties because I had forgotten, because it’s been so long since the two of us in the same room during one that I have the wrong setting on the microphone. I also hadn’t focused the video camera. Because I usually have somebody else videoing this, videoing me. So, there’s a mistake that with the vantage of trust, I’m hoping that somewhere down the line this will work out even better maybe as a teaching lesson. I don’t know.
And so by the way, the original point wasn’t just positive delusions because that’s actually much bigger and there could be some debatable examples of positive delusions. But I was talking about the vantage of trust where you give your all, you give it your best shot and you still fail. And instead of just giving up or getting really depressed, or heaping on even more stress, you just trust that things will work out.
And the older you get, usually, especially if you’ve been an achiever, you can usually look back and see that the things that you freaked out about in your early years really weren’t that important. And in fact, because you failed, you ended up in these other situations that actually worked out really, really well. Another example of where I’m applying trust in my life is I got into an accident out of complete sheer stupidity.
It was on a Saturday morning just running in my new running shoes, partying with some friends. I stupidly ran because I was running… I thought I got these great running shoes, and I wanted to show them off, and I ended up falling flat on my face, breaking my two front teeth, I hit my head twice on the floor. So, I whiplashed my neck which I didn’t discover until the second day, and was completely stiff, and still have that stiffness. I can’t look all the way to the left yet. And for at least three days, I had that stiffness, and then all the bruising on my chin, all that other stuff. The worst was the fact that I broke my two front teeth. And I couldn’t get insurance to cover it easily until I got back to Singapore because my insurance is based in Singapore.
I couldn’t change my flight because it was booked on Miles, and the Miles availability at that category had no openings until my original flight. So, I had to wait four more days with broken teeth, couldn’t eat besides congee and soup, so that sucked. I couldn’t film. I had to cancel two filming shoots. We had arranged for two filmographers in that city, in that foreign country. So, we had to call that off, we ended up just meeting for dinner. So, that sucked. And for the first two days, I was really angry at myself which I’m still angry at myself. But I was also sad and depressed and kind of like, “Damn, I had to cancel all those and now I’m going to have to pay for this, and then hopefully the insurance, but then I was worrying about whether the insurance would cover it” and all this stuff.
I think it might have worked out even better. So, you might hear us like lisp because I have temporary caps on right now, but I think my teeth would look even better because they’re new artificial teeth.
Henry Chong: And you will learn not to run.
Dr. David Tien: And not to wear running shoes to be tempted to run because they were really nice running shoes. I got these really nice running shoes with these springy… These are minor examples, trivial ones. Today, our business is in a transitional point. I’m trying to put out more free content but then also putting out more courses. And the courses are taking a lot of work, they’re taking out a lot of time, more time than I had scheduled and that’s prevented me from putting out things like the podcast as much as I had wanted.
In addition, we’re trying to meet a new part of our audience, our market. So, the price points are different. The style of delivery is different and it’s not what I’m used to. And because of that, that transition point is always where the scaling will have a weakness. So, we’re not able to scale smoothly in a straight line up. It’s going to have a dip and then hopefully curve up. The finances are bad enough that I was like freaking out like, “Oh, man.” Because there are a bunch of unexpected expenses that have come up in the past two months.
And I was thinking with my wife today what our backup plan is. Because I’m used to facing adversity, my wife is much younger than me, hasn’t gone through as much career adversities. She’s gone through other personal adversity but not like achievement type of adversity. So, I’ve been there. I was very calm relatively compared to her, but she was freaking out. So I was like, “Okay, let me help you like not freak out so much and let’s think of our backup plans.” Because I always have a backup plan and you need a backup plan to your backup plan, and backup plan to your blackup plan.
And ultimately, we had already come up with a backup plan, the two of us way back, which was to go to jail. Because when you go to jail, you have three square meals a day. You don’t have to worry about paying rent. You have to worry about inmates and other shit but you don’t have to worry about the necessities. Anyway, that’s like plan Z. So, we came up with some backup plans, and they were so enticing in fact, that she was like, “Let’s just do that! That sounds awesome.” So, we were very tempted to just quit the whole thing we’re doing now, just go for the back up plan.
That’s the danger, when the backup plan becomes so enticing. That was the case for me. I’ll give you an example of where the vantage point of trust came in. I was getting into trouble. My first job in Singapore, my first real job where it was like a career and salary, it was as a professor. It was at the National University of Singapore. And at that year, it was the best job in my field in the world. Asia really respects its teachers, and pays them quite well, and pay them like corporate level.
So we had a expat package and it was at least 25-30% better than any offer in that field that year. So, I was pretty happy. But in the first month, I befriended, out of the many females I befriended one of them was a reporter and she wanted to do an article on the work I was doing as a dating coach. And I naively said, “Yes! That sounds like fun.” And we did it, ended up on the front cover of one of the national newspapers. And I had no idea that this would get me into trouble with the university.
Because I was so naive and I was just like so in my own frame. My positive delusion was so strong, like I don’t give a fuck. I’m going to live how I am. Why hide anything? I didn’t hide anything ever, and I didn’t expect that the university would not be happy with that. It wasn’t so much that it was against the rules. It was that they were gaining complaints from parents thinking I was a rapist or something, and it’s just extra work for them. I totally sympathize with them now I’m much more mature.
But at the time, I was freaking out. I kept trying to scale back that part of my life but I couldn’t because that was just me. And I blogged like, one-tenth of what I had planned to and just scaled it back but it still wasn’t enough. And by the second year, the chair of the department had started a witch hunt on me and pulled out my third-year students and asked them if they knew whether Professor Tian had any sexual relations with any of the students.
Of course I had none. I was completely clean. Like, I wasn’t hiding anything. I was completely clean. The students were the ones who came to tell me, “Do you know that she’s doing this?” And they thought that that was quite unjust and unfair, and so, thankfully none of them lied to her or something. But that really pissed me off. And I thought, “Man, I’m going to lose this job, or I’ll have to quit, or I’ll have to go against my values.” And at that time, I had shrunk my dating coach practice so little that I couldn’t survive on any income that would come from that.
That was the period where I was just like not sure what was going to happen. And it turned out that that was really good. And I’m very glad that I didn’t stay in academia, especially the way it has gone in the past few years and had already been going at that time. But that now, it just accelerated, the amount of bullshit coming out of the academy. And what had turned out to be this pressure and stress that I thought was going to be career-ending… In fact, it was career-ending, but it was a good career-ender to begin another career. And when your backup plan, because at that time my backup plan was to grow the dating coach thing and I just needed to buy my time to get that happening.
When your backup plan becomes more enticing than the thing you’re doing now, that’s when maybe you should really consider that. Now it was just as a caveat, it was enticing to my wife. So, I’m still not as bullish on the backup plan, it’s still a backup plan but it’s good to have one. That’s part of reality, but let’s try to get this to work, and I’ll try my best to make this work. But if doesn’t work out, I’m sure, if I just applied myself, and stayed alive, and stayed positive, that something would happen and the universe would make it work out.
Henry Chong: When the stories just talk about that, about how if you think about… Think about the absolute worst case scenario of that thing that you’ve been so afraid of, and chances are, it’s not actually as bad as you think. When you actually go through it, you’re like, “Yeah, okay, well, if that really happens, then what? Well actually, it’ll probably be okay.” But I think that’s a really powerful point you’re talking about, how it’s not always about positive delusion and good things happening. Sometimes just bad things happen, period. And especially when it’s happening, it’s very hard to see through the other side.
And I think that the only thing is called faith. And I’m not a religious man, to be perfectly honest, but I think that faith is… Kierkegaard was a great philosopher, and he had this idea of what he called knight of faith. He was talking about religious belief, specifically Christian-religious belief. And he said that, if you just believe in God with no doubts, you are just in some sense delusional. You’re just, “Okay, well fine, I’ll just believe.” But it’s not really, you’re just like, okay, you’re just going along with it. He’s like the real knight of faith. In a sense, the true believer is someone who recognizes all the doubts, and all the arguments against something, and chooses to believe anyway. That’s real belief, belief in the face of doubt.
And I’ve always found that very powerful. And we need to come back to what you’re talking about earlier. It’s like look, you need both reality and you need that ability to see through the other side, that positive delusion so to speak. And I guess the knight of faith is someone who can say, “Look, I understand all the reasons why, realistically, there’s a good chance I’m going to die if I ride that bike across that bridge. But you know what? Notwithstanding that, I’ve decided to do it, and I’ve decided to believe that I can and focus on the other side and just get across, period.” And I think usually when you operate that way, that’s exactly when you perform the best, when you will cross the bridge.
Dr. David Tien: Yeah. There’s so many times in my life where, if I focused on the things that could go badly, they go badly like driving, the example. And I used to do that a lot. As a child, one of the reasons I sucked at… I’ll give you a recent example, it’s easy to pick on me when I was a kid, but I can make fun of myself as an adult, the first time I went scuba diving. So this came in like very strongly that I had to focus on the very few things that I have to do. Which weren’t complicated, they weren’t challenging. Here’s the thing: If you have a challenge, it’s easy. That’s why achievers actually don’t need to think about this that much, because they’re so focused on the task at hand, which hopefully is challenging.
When it’s not challenging is when gifted children, they start to get into trouble. And this is, I was just thinking about this in my dream the other night. I guess it’s how it’s related. Well, now we go back to my childhood, I’ll give the recent example soon, I used to purposely sabotage myself on tasks. Here’s an example, I was the first chair saxophone lead, first chair, first alto. And in jazz bands and in– well actually, any saxophone section, concert band, whatever, the lead alto has the dominant part.
So, you should be at least 20% louder than any other part. And sometimes they just mic you up, so that they artificially boost you but you shouldn’t have to do that. So, you should actually play louder, and they should all play quieter when you’re all playing. So, that’s a very important part. That’s carrying the melody. So anyway, I was first chair, first alto, and we were touring. I was 16 years old, maybe 15. We got to the hotel. and we had three hours before we had to play.
So my buddy and I decided we’d go explore the town. So, we’re in our whole concert garb, dress-pants, dress-shoes, everything. And we end up running all over the town. In fact, then we looked at the time and we’re like, “Fuck. We can’t make it back. We can’t wait for the subway train,” so we had taken the subway. We got close enough that we’re just one subway train away, and we looked down, and this was a street cart tunnel and it wasn’t going to be another street cart for like five or ten minutes. And we couldn’t wait that long.
So, we decided we would jump down on the tracks and run. So, we literally ran a whole station. My buddy was a middle-distance athlete so he was running really fast. And I was a sprinter so I was out of breath. But anyway, we’re running by, I saw rats go by me, didn’t have time to look at that, just ran and we jumped up on the next platform, looked up, our shoes were completely caped in mud. We passed our ankles in mud, like just nasty water, whatever.
We get up there, and we’re sweating by the way as well. And we just have enough time to get to the bathroom, get some paper towels and wipe down our shoes. We get up there, we’re ready to play, like, just like, just in time, we get up on stage. The conductor’s like, “Ding, ding, ding.” On her stand. Alright, I open my book. I tabbed completely the wrong folder. It’s none of the music we’re going to play that night. And it was like an 18 piece band. I was carrying the melody on almost every song.
And it was packed, it was some kind of benefit charity gala. They wanted to see the high school kids play. It’s like, fuck, and I just winged it. And it was pretty good, because my adrenaline was going like, “Yeah, this is hard.” I’ve never improvised an entire two-hour concert before. And I was looking at my second chair alto’s page, and I told her what was happening. “I don’t have my music.” And she’s like, “Oh my god.” So, she’s trying to shove her music over to me. So, I was just trying to play like a third above her for the most of it. And of course, I made mistakes, so the conductor about the third song looked at me all weird like, “What the fuck you doing?” And like, “I don’t have the music.” Anyway, I still remember that. But I loved it. I felt guilty, I felt bad, but I thought, “Man, this is fun.” Like, who else has ever done this?
And it’s only 30 years later I look back, I’m like… Part of the thing that has limited me is that if I don’t have a challenge, I will purposely screw things up so that it’s challenging because only then is it fun. And if I had understood that about myself earlier, I would’ve not made so many screw ups. So, one thing I know now is that even though I’m not optimally a multi-tasker, so if it’s an important task, I need to focus on that one thing only, block everything else.
But most of what I do to me intellectually isn’t that challenging. So, I would just not do it. Like, bookkeeping for instance that only I can access certain accounts. I would just drag my feet. There’s so many other examples. Writing, that was very easy. Perfunctory email responses, things like this. So, if I could hire it out, I would do it but there’s some things that only I can do because of security reasons. I ended up just opening three different windows. I’ll listen to a podcast, I’ll throw some music on just to keep my brain occupied. Because otherwise, I won’t do it or I’ll mess it up just so that I can fix it later and that’ll be hard.
So, the vantage point of trust is sort of related to this in the sense of like… Recently, I messed up. Let’s just talk about the vantage point of trust. I’ll come back to the recent example because I want to bring it back to that. So, the idea of the tapestry as being the fact that there’s no stain on it… And at the moment you think there’s a stain, but if you have the bigger vantage point and you continue to paint this… I guess you’re not painting a tapestry, you’re weaving a tapestry. And at the end of the day, what is the most valuable in the piece of art are those little imperfections.
Because the little imperfections are the ones that copiers can’t reproduce so easily or that makes it special, makes it different, makes it unique. Like the example of the cracked vase, or the example of these ancient teacups from Asia that sometimes people buy and wash. They think that the green stains on the teacup are imperfections. That’s why they’re so valuable, because they haven’t been washed. The same with the Stradivarius violins. It’s all of the grooves and imperfections. That’s what makes it attractive. And in some ways, it’s the same with people.
So if you think about like, if you have a scar in your face or some asymmetry in your face, technically speaking, you should be less attractive. But the studies have shown that if you have a perfectly symmetrical face, or the closer it gets to symmetry, the more forgettable it is. And one way to create a symmetrical face is to amalgamate 1,000 faces, just combine them all, and you get this one artificial face in the computer. It’s a face that people will have a hard time remembering. Like if you committed a crime and you had to tell it to the police, you wouldn’t be able to describe it very easily.
But if you had a distinctive scar, or you had a tooth out of place, or your nose was crooked or whatever, people will remember that. And in fact, not in a bad way, but in a way that it stands out. It’s just that one little imperfection. So obviously, if your whole face is scarred, this is going to really affect your attractiveness. But if you have otherwise a pretty face, but you have one, or two, or three, or more, but not too many imperfections, that’s what makes you unique. That’s a distinctive thing. And your life, in your life, you don’t know what those will be as they’re happening, but those are the things that actually make life most valuable.
Henry Chong: No, absolutely. And in a sense, those are the things that can’t be replicated. And I think in a world where everything is getting flatter and flatter and competition is increasing, you see so many people chasing the same singular point or a same singular goal. I think that in so many dimensions of life, it is only those unique things, those imperfections that make you different. If you’re playing music, it is your unique quirks in a sense, the deviations from perfect that make your sound so unique. Otherwise, I can just get a computer to play. And I think that’ll be true with so many things where to be human is to err in a very real sense.
And perhaps that is your only competitive advantage, to find whatever is unique about yourself and yourself is an amalgamation of all these failures, if you will, or mistake that you’ve made in the past and figuring out how best to leverage that unique, weird mix bundle of failure and mistakes that has made you that has made you the only person that you can be. I guess maybe to close, just one… There’s this quote from The Matrix, actually, which is a fantastic movie. And I think everything you need to learn about philosophy you can learn from The Matrix. My philosophy teachers at Oxford were not amused by that comment.
And there’s a scene where Neo is meeting with the Oracle and she basically says that he’s come and he’s come to ask her… “Tell me what I should do effectively.” And she says, “No, you’ve already made the choice. The key now is to understand why you made that choice.” But also, there’s this line where she says, “Know that what happens, happens for a reason and couldn’t have happened any other way.” And I was like, “Hmm, that is very interesting.”
Dr. David Tien: Yes. Sort of reminds me of the ending of Infinity War: Part I.
Henry Chong: Which is a great cliffhanger.
Dr. David Tien: Let’s not talk about that because I’ll go down that rabbit hole forever. The one trick about all of this is that, although is that you can’t force it. So, a great example from the one that you brought up, which was a great example, is the classical musicians and even jazz musicians now are not even being replicated yet by AI but that they all sound the same. So, Malcolm Gladwell’s written about this, how you can go into any major city and just hire out an orchestra. And they’re basically interchangeable. That’s the idea of classical music, it’s supposed to all sound faithful to the original.
Now, there are those who have a flare, a personality. They dress differently. And when they play the solo, they deviate or they put this emotion into it that leaps off the page, it’s different from just reading it off the page. But the backup orchestra is supposed to not deviate from the page. So, they’re not supposed to go out and break out in some improvised solo. They’re supposed to play what’s on the damn page. And then the soloist can put some flare into it. But if you’re just like the second trumpet, you’re supposedly interchangeable with any other second trumpet in any other major orchestra anywhere in the world. And that actually makes you dispensable.
This is actually happening in jazz, the one music form, I guess it’s now classical, that it shouldn’t happen to because there’s so much based on improvisation. But because there are academies of jazz, conservatories to jazz, there’s a sound that the average teacher wants you to sound like. And you’re all looking back to certain figures: Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles at various stages and you’re all trying to sound like him that it’s really easy to just sound like a good jazz player. And there are thousands of good tenor saxophonists, just even that, that it’s hard to tell your distinctive sound.
And the ones who have some weirdness… So, I remember there’s a guy named Joe Lovano who is a great tenor saxophonist. I used to be really, really into jazz. This was like 10 years ago. I’d buy every copy of Downbeat magazine. I’d listen to everything. So now, I’m a little bit less informed, but even now I still see Joe Lovano pop up. He used to play a fullwood kit. So, that would be like… He’d have the saxophone. In fact, I think he might’ve had a wooden saxophone, but normally he plays a good Selmer sax but he has a wooden mouthpiece which is unusual. So, a wooden reed… It’s a very wood sound, so you hear a lot of raspiness.
Lester Young played with his own tone. And these were all results of idiosyncrasies. You can go out and try to develop this. I think in fact that many charismatic people have a studied persona. They purposefully carved out a way of speaking, a way of moving. Like, they were actors. This is a very high level skill because otherwise you just come off as fake. And you need to practice it, it’s a studied thing. And especially if you’re an actor, I’m sure all of them are doing that. If you look at The Rock in his interviews in the 90s when he was WWE early Rock, and what he’s like now, it’s totally different.
Same even with Jordan Peterson to a certain extent. I’ve seen his old videos where he’s very relaxed, very jovial, jocular in a way, and now he’s much more stern, he’s a lot thinner, he’s dressed a lot more GQ. He’s got a more studied persona. That’s not a bad thing, especially if it’s consistent with who you are, it’s just a part of you that you bring out. Just like when somebody learns how to pick up chicks so to speak, for him to learn that, he probably wasn’t good at it before and therefore he has to have a different way of presenting himself.
And that’s just a part of him. As long as he knows that that’s a different part, that that’s not all he is and his whole identity is wrapped up in that, it’s perfectly fine. But this idea of trying to go out to create the failure, in order to get the thing that will come out of it, is actually sort of paradoxical because then it wouldn’t be a failure. So, all of this having been said, like the vantage point of trust is, you give it your all. With looking at all of reality that you have access to and keeping that, like basically doing what you ought to be doing anyway. But if it doesn’t go well, if you gave it your all and you failed, don’t freak out too much and don’t kill yourself. Because often, the best thing is around the corner.
There’s a great book called Think and Grow Rich. I don’t know how you feel about it. I used to love it, now I’m sort of — some of it is really good. One part that’s really good is, he had a phrase, ‘three feet from gold.’ I think it was three, it might be six. And the idea was just like, somebody bought a mine for millions of dollars and thought there was gold in it. He mined and mined and mined it and he couldn’t find any gold, then he sold it off. Then the next guy who bought it did some more research and discovered that it was like three feet from where they had dug, and there was a ton of gold.
So, part of the lesson there is for personal application, when you think it’s the hardest, when it’s the darkest time is actually just when the sun’s about to rise. So, that dark period, keep going. You might think that that’s it, game over, you got to put more coins in the game or you’re done. Actually, don’t put the coin in yet. Don’t press any button yet. Just keep going. And something good was probably coming around the corner. It’s when people just give up, and because of their despair, they do other things, self-destructive things that then spirals them down into hell. But if you’re in hell, just keep going. Don’t stop now.
Henry Chong: Absolutely. There’s this quote I’ve always liked and I think it says, “Be patient. The universe is running right on schedule.”
Dr. David Tien: Right, yeah. It’s hard to do, though. Obviously, it could sound very new agey, like trust the universe. That’s why I really don’t like the verbiage of, and I’ve already dropped it a couple of times, saying the universe has some agency. So, trying to think about it, what it’s like from the inside going through things. But it’s also like, just looking at it from the outside. If you just keep trying and you just keep grinding, maybe the path you’re going down isn’t going to work out. Try another path, just keep trying.
I’ll give you some personal examples so maybe it’ll come home, make it more concrete. So, this is one that most people can relate to. Your first breakup or the first time you got dumped, because you might’ve been the dumper. So, the first time you got dumped. And if it was your first relationship, that’s doubly hard. And it’s just sort of like, “Oh, my life is over. Love does not exist.” And you go through that 500 Days of Summer kind of depression. As you get older and wiser, you realize that that was a really short-sighted interpretation of the events. So, here are some more. I guess I’m a lover of sorts.
All of the things that I just immediately thought of were all relationship stuff. But most recently, I went through a divorce. If I didn’t get through that dark period, I wouldn’t have found my calling as a dating coach. If I didn’t go through that, I wouldn’t have figured out what I’m doing now as a life coach and I wouldn’t have met you, Henry. I wouldn’t have met so many other people that were so instrumental in my life. If I hadn’t been cheated on as the final straw to dump this narcissistic vampire ex-girlfriend that I had then, I wouldn’t have met my wife now. And if I had just, “Fuck it. I’m just going to go fuck around.” I wouldn’t have met my wife now.
So, there are so many things where you look back and you don’t see how you can connect the dots. You don’t see where the dots would go. But looking back, you can see how the stain in the tapestry actually perfects the tapestry.
Henry Chong: And it’s not just about success or failure, it’s about things needed to happen at just the right time in just the right way. They need to come together the way it is.
Dr. David Tien: I’m tempted now to purposely create failure so I can get the benefit. That would be like getting a tapestry and then purposely trying to do imperfections.
Henry Chong: Everything has a rhythm. And when you talk about the universe or nature, whatever you call it, nature has a rhythm. Plants grow at just the right time; not too fast, not too slow. I absolutely believe in personal agency very much so. Miyamoto Musashi was perhaps the greatest swordsman to have ever lived. He was this Japanese wandering ronin, some sort of samurai but a master. Dozens and dozens of duels, killed dozens and dozens of people, definitely among the supreme tacticians and thinkers about warfare that ever lived and wrote a famous book called The Way of the Five Rings.
He talks a lot about rhythm and timing in that book and he says, it’s not only just about being faster, it’s about being at the right time. He’s like the master of strategy is neither too fast nor too slow. The whole point because we say too, it is just the right time. He seems unhurried almost. The old image of the zen master, and like a sort of — the unhurried master who knows exactly what to do exactly when. That’s sort of the image you have as opposed to the guys [INAUDIBLE 00:51:25] example of just trying to pour the water and sink it, the sort of effortless floating.
The ancient Chinese philosophers, they had this concept of bu shi ding, about the blade that just flows through a cow almost without hitting bone and sinew, without any resistance because you know just where to go and just how to cut at just the right time. I’ve always thought that that was a really appealing view of how you should lead life, sort of the ability to flow through life and around obstacles as they come, and not just the image of the guy just sort of rapidly panning at walls and not getting anywhere. The guy who can swim is the guy who knows exactly what to do, is calm, and relaxed, and can flow through the water at just the right time, just the right way.
Dr. David Tien: The hard part for us in time is to know what the right timing is. And we try to force the timing because we think that we know what the right timing is. We might be right, but we might be wrong. And you won’t know until you look back. One thing you just do is if you live long enough, you can look back and see that the timing was all right. It was all correct. And even if it was bad, you just haven’t lived long enough to be able to look back and see how that might work out.
And even if it doesn’t or even if you don’t get to live long enough to see how it works out, it’s actually better for you to assume that it’s going to work out and then continue living, doing what you would do under that assumption. So, it’s a positive delusion if you hold it because it will empower you to do whatever it is that you need to do next.
Henry Chong: Absolutely. Speaking of right timing, [INAUDIBLE 00:53:09].
Dr. David Tien: Very good. So, thanks for putting up with our technical difficulties there, and hope it wasn’t too bothersome at the beginning. Another great discussion. Thank you, Henry.
Henry Chong: Glad we could actually do this live in person.
Dr. David Tien: Yes.
Henry Chong: But we still have technical difficulties.
Dr. David Tien: Right, but the vantage point of trust. So, you can hear or find out more about me at DavidTianPHD.com and we’ll have the show notes for however you’re listening to this. How can they get a hold of you, Henry?
Henry Chong: You can find me on my website at HenryChong.com.
Dr. David Tien: You’ve got a newsletter.
Henry Chong: Yes, and you can find that on my website, too.
Dr. David Tien: Alright, and we have a private Facebook group for the DTPHD podcast group. You can find a link in the show notes and hope to see you there. Until next time, David Tien and Henry Chong, signing out.